US Bishops Says Textile Industry Groups Have Distorted Trade Debate

Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) international policy committee, is urging textile industry lobbying groups to avoid divisive and alarmist rhetoric when criticizing trade preferences for the world's poorest countries.

"Pitting hard-working manufacturers in our country against the poorest of the poor in Haiti and Africa is a disservice to the dignity all workers," Bishop Wenski said. "While civil discussions and candid disagreements over the impact of trade agreements are reasonable conversations to have in a democracy, playing to the fears of anxious workers is irresponsible and reduces the debate over trade agreements to shallow sound-bites."

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church support the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act to help stimulate economic growth and reduce entrenched poverty in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. On December 5, this ecumenical coalition wrote to all members of Congress urging the passage of preferences for Haiti before the 109th Congress adjourns. A copy of the letter is below.

By providing duty-free access to US markets for certain clothes made in Haiti, the modest trade preferences would help rejuvenate the country's devastated apparel industry that has lost some 80,000 jobs. Eighty percent of Haitians live in abject poverty and the per-capita yearly income stands at just $440.

A study commissioned by the US Agency for International Development found that the HOPE Act would have no adverse impact on manufacturers in the United States. In fact, Haiti is an important importer of American products ranging from rice and chickens to automobiles and computers. For every dollar sent to Haiti, one dollar and thirty-four cents comes back.

Congress is expected to consider the bill in early December.

"This important legislation is part our moral imperative to care for the least among us, and reflects the deep-rooted humanitarian concerns of the American people," Bishops Wenski said. "It also offers a meaningful path for many vulnerable people in Haiti to become true partners in their own future."

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